Australian short film The Moogai won this year’s SXSW Jury Prize in the Midnight Short section, and for good reason. Writer/director Jon Bell’s harrowing short film is rich in spine-tingling atmosphere, with a gripping, meaningful story and solid performances.
Sarah (Shari Sebbens) and Fergus (Meyne Watt) have a newborn baby, and Sarah begins seeing haunting images of a young Aboriginal girl warning her of something that is watching her. The something turns out to be a child-stealing supernatural entity.
Bell takes the fear-fare trope of a woman seeing terrifying otherworldly forces and her husband not believing her and puts a different spin on the situation. The director ratchets up the suspense marvelously, enveloping his short film in an aura of absolute dread and terror.
Sebbens and Watt play off of each other wonderfully, both having the opportunity to show strength with varying emotions, and making their fear seem realistic. Sebbens superbly conveys the distress of a mother terrified about having her child taken away from her.
Bell has crafted an excellent short that works on a surface level as a frightening horror tale, but that also offers a great deal of depth. The possibilities of postpartum depression come into play, but the film is also commentary on the Stolen Generations, during which Australian government agencies forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families.
The Moogai screened as part of SXSW Online 2021, which ran from March 16–20, 2021.(4 / 5)